Origin of the Internet: Who Invented the World Wide Web?

This is the story of how we got from browsing the ARPANET with room-sized computers to modern-day cloud computing.
Rupendra Brahambhatt

There are many questions around the creation of the internet and the world wide web (WWW). Many people believe the WWW and the internet are the same things, but in reality, that is not true. 

The term World Wide Web describes the most common means of accessing data online in the form of websites and hyperlinks. Whereas, 'the internet' is a term used to describe the vast network of computers and servers through which the world wide web operates. The web popularized the internet among the public, and was an important step in developing the huge amount of information that we access on a daily basis.

Although it has been more than 30 years since the internet and the world wide web came into existence, the story of their origin is still sought after and read by people with great interest and excitement. There are dedicated blogs, forums, and foundations that spread awareness among people on issues related to the web.

Internet - History, Origin, and Evolution

Origin of the Internet: Who Invented the World Wide Web?
The ARPANET project in 1969 Source: TAdviser

People had the idea for the internet long before the technology to create it actually existed. In the early 1900s, Nikola Tesla had an idea for a “world wireless system.” In the 1940s, Paul Otlet, the founder of the field of information sciences, wrote about a "Radiated Library" that would use telephone signals to connect TV watchers to encyclopedic knowledge. 

In the early 1960s technology finally began to catch up with some of these ideas. Shortly after MIT’s J.C.R. Licklider popularized the idea of an “Intergalactic Network” of computers, the concept of “packet switching” was developed. This is a method for effectively transmitting electronic data and it would become one of the major building blocks of the internet.

In 1966, the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPA), a division of the US Department of Defence, established the ARPANET, which built on Licklider's ideas to create a workable prototype of the internet.

The ARPANET used packet switching to allow multiple computers to communicate on a single network. The system sent its first node-to-node message on October 29, 1969, between a computer at UCLA and a computer at Stanford. The attempt to send a single word — LOGIN — was enough to crash the small network — the Stanford computer only received the letters LO.

In the years that followed, engineers Vinton Cerf (also known as 'father of the internet') and Robert Cahn developed a communication model that standardized data transmission through multiple networks, they called it the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP).

On January 1, 1983, TCP/IP became a part of the ARPANET and the “network of networks” that became the modern Internet began to take shape. 

Who Invented the World Wide Web?

In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee, a computer science fellow at the European Council for Nuclear Research (CERN) first developed an outline for a system that could easily carry out the information sharing process between different research institutions such as MIT, CERN, Stanford, etc. by connecting their individual systems together. The Web was originally conceived to meet the demand for automated information-sharing between scientists in universities and institutes around the world.

Together with Belgian systems engineer Robert Cailliau, Berners-Lee wrote and formalised an outline of the principal concepts and important terms behind the Web. The document described a "hypertext project" called "WorldWideWeb" in which a "web" of "hypertext documents" could be viewed by “browsers”.

By the end of 1990, Tim Berners-Lee had the first Web server and browser up and running at CERN, demonstrating his ideas. The code was developed and run on Berners-Lee's NeXT computer. To keep it from being accidentally switched off, there was a hand-written label on the computer in red ink: "This machine is a server. DO NOT POWER IT DOWN!!"

In 1993, the source code for the WWW project was released for the public and CERN also made the information sharing system freely available to all. These steps laid the foundation of the open and easily accessible modern-day web services. 

Why were the Internet and the World Wide Web invented?

Origin of the Internet: Who Invented the World Wide Web?
Source: SPD Net/Flickr

In 1968, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) came in agreement with BBN, a research and development company to develop the ARPANET. Its initial purpose was to link computers at Pentagon-funded research institutions over telephone lines.

The ARPANET was the end-product of developments spurred by Cold War military attempts to develop an early-warning system to detect surprise nuclear attacks against the United States.

Military commanders wanted a computer communications system that had no central core, headquarters or base of operations that could be destroyed or interrupted by an attack. An earlier system, called SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) had been developed which used computers to track incoming enemy aircraft and to coordinate military response. 

In 1962, Licklider joined ARPA. He spent only two years there, but his work helped to demilitarize the agency. He emphasised interactive computing and the notion that humans teamed with computers could create a better world.

In 1966, Robert Taylor became director  of the project that would lead to ARPANET. Taylor had access to three teletype terminals, hooked up to  time-sharing mainframe computers at Systems Development Corp. in Santa Monica, at UC Berkeley’s Genie Project, and at MIT’s Compatible Time-Sharing System project. He was able to watch local users connect through these mainframes and realized that people were using them to exchange messages and share files, and that interactive communities were forming around the machines.

Taylor also realized that it would be more efficient if there were a single computer-language protocol that could allow any terminal to communicate with any other terminal. It was these insights that led Taylor to secure funding for the development of ARPANET.

Origin of the Internet: Who Invented the World Wide Web?
Fathers of the Internet Source: Mike Lee/Flickr

Difference between WWW and the Internet

The key difference between the internet and the world wide web is that the former is the hardware part that incorporates servers, computers, devices, and other physical components of a wired or wireless internet connection whereas, the latter is a software-based virtual system, used to access the internet. 

Internet Protocol (IP) is a set of rules that dictates how data should be delivered over the internet. This works in conjunction with the transmission control protocol (TCP), which divides traffic into packets for efficient transport through the Internet. In contrast, Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is the protocol used to transfer data over the web. It defines commands and services used for transmitting webpage data. 

World Wide Web - Ownership and Negative Aspects

Similar to the telecom industry, where no single company can claim that they own the entire global mobile network services, the world wide web and internet are not owned by any single organization.

There are organizations that determine the Internet's structure and how it works, but they don't own any of the Internet itself. 

On the other hand, there are thousands of people and organizations that own parts of the Internet. This is because the Internet consists of lots of different bits and pieces, and each of these has an owner. 

The physical network of servers, cables, and routers that carry Internet traffic between different computer systems is referred to as the Internet backbone. Originally, ARPANET was the backbone of the internet. Today, a number of large corporations provide the Internet backbone. These are Internet Service Providers (ISPs) such as Verizon, AT&T, Qwest, Sprint, etc. In order to access the internet, you must ultimately work with these companies. Smaller ISPs negotiate with these larger companies for internet access.

There are also Internet Exchange Points (IXPs), which are physical connections between the large ISPs that allow data exchanges. The IXPs are run by both companies and non-profit organizations.

The individual computer networks that make up the Internet can have owners. For example, many companies have local area networks (LANs) that link to the Internet. The owners of these networks can control the level of access users have to the Internet. Governments also exert control over parts of the internet.

But ownership of the backbone is not the only way that organizations can control the internet. Many of the large tech giants have gained control over certain aspects of the WWW, such as search engines and retail sales. At the same time, there are a number of issues regarding access to the internet that could threaten the future of the internet, such as net neutrality, data control, and privacy.

Origin of the Internet: Who Invented the World Wide Web?
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Increased instances of cyberbullying, election hacking, fake news, and data theft are also some of the major negative outcomes of the WWW. Moreover, the increasing dominance of tech organizations is turning the world wide web into a ruthless digital marketplace, where algorithms, money, and subscribers decide the nature of information you are likely to see next on your screen.  

Interesting Facts about the Internet and the World Wide Web

Origin of the Internet: Who Invented the World Wide Web?
Source: drosen7900/flickr
  • In October 1994, Tim Berners-Lee founded the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to set protocols, guidelines, and standards for the web. W3C also serves as a means to carry out different developmental activities for the overall positive growth of the web.
  • The first webpage developed by Tim Berners-Lee for the world wide web went live in August 1991, it is also considered the world’s first website and it is still active. However, there are some other sites as well which claim to be the oldest on the internet
  • The first search engine on the internet was Archie, a post-graduate project created by Alan Emtage at McGill University, Montreal. 

  • Today, the number of devices connected to the internet exceeds the total number of human beings on earth, and the total number of active websites on the web is more than 1.8 billion.
  • The Internet emerged as the fastest medium of communication to reach 50 million users. Compared to the 12 and 38 years taken by radio and television, respectively, to reach the same number of users, the internet achieved this feat within 5 years of its run.

Future of the Internet

Origin of the Internet: Who Invented the World Wide Web?
Source: relif/iStock

At present, around 5.2 billion people in the world use web, and their numbers are increasing fast. From smartphones to smart homes, internet is transforming our lives in unprecedented ways, even during many emergency circumstances such as the occurrence of a natural calamity, war, medical emergency, etc, the world wide web plays a vital role in saving the lives of thousands of people. It has now become much more than just an information-sharing system and as technology will evolve in the coming years, the web is likely to become even more enmeshed in our lives.

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